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Review: The Vacationers by Emma Straub



Highlights: Sylvia is a great adolescent character, realistically rounded. Straub might write a good YA novel in the future.
Synopsis: A family sets out on the trip of a lifetime to Spain. Once there, things go downhill quickly. Stable relationships are put the test, and new ones begin to form. Several days of trouble ensue. With the trip winding down, the Posts must come together to save what they can.



Fun Factor

Reading Recommendation

Total Score
12/ 14

User Rating
1 total rating



Everything seems so relaxed. The prose rolls, and the characters are alive.


Stick with the iffy beginning. Once the vacation begins, things drastically pick up.

Posted August 25, 2014 by

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“Leaving always came as a surprise, no matter how long the dates had been looming on the calendar.”

Vacations are the time for relaxation and recuperation. At least, they are supposed to be. The greatly touted The Vacationers by Emma Straub is a character drama set during a family’s two week trip to Spain. Luckily for us readers, there is nothing peaceful about the overseas journey. In the same vein as Meg Wolitzer’s recent The Interestings and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, Straub’s latest offering isn’t so much about the surroundings as it is about the new and old bickering and familial complications that arise in the new locale.

For the Posts, the family at the center of The Vacationers, being boring isn’t an issue. The family is wealthy due to Jim, the patriarch’s, position as a successful editor. Jim cheats on his wife, Franny, shortly before the novel’s onset, and she knows it. What makes it worse is that the affair is with a woman half his age. Franny is an upset woman, but she holds her anger inside, building it gradually until it stabilizes into bitter resentment. Consequently, she comes across as direct and overbearing. Straub writes of the distressed woman, “Franny had cooked, and everyone was going to sit at the table together.” When Franny declares, people listen; such dictatorship usually isn’t well-received.

The daughter, Sylvia, is the most interesting of the characters because she’s the most relatable. She’s a typically depressed and moody teenager; she says things like, “I’m finding all this sunshine very depressing.” How sad life must be to be resting on Spain’s coast, soaking up the sunshine. We’ve all been there. She’s also horny—very horny. Things perk up for Sylvia when she meets Joan, a handsome native with an unusual name. Bobby, Jim and Franny’s older son, and his girlfriend join the family. They are another pair who are—you guessed it—on the rocks. Bobby thinks he has his father’s genetic trait of being a cheater. Finally, Charles and Lawrence, a homosexual couple wanting a baby in order to begin  their own family, show up and try to help Franny deal with Jim. Again, there is a lot of drama here.

The cast is likeable, even though there is no justification for why. Straub’s characters admit to living “happily selfish lives.” Sylvia hates just about everything and everyone. Besides her disdain for sunshine, she also dislikes basically everyone: “She missed her phone, despite the fact that she hated most of the people she knew and didn’t care what they were doing all summer,” and “Sylvia was glad to have gotten home alive, and was dreaming of her bed, maybe checking Facebook to see if she needed to hate anyone more than she already did.” Straub doesn’t hold back on spitting description after description that should turn us away, but instead she holds our attention until the very end.

Communication is a central topic throughout The Vacationers. Specifically, bad communication is what Straub seems to be warning us about. The problem is that no one will admit his or her failures. The characters simply won’t apologize for their transgressions. Bobby refuses to talk to his girlfriend about his feelings, although they both are terribly unhappy. Jim chooses to mostly ignore Franny. A simple “I’m sorry” would have considerably shortened the novel, but, truthfully, it wouldn’t have made it nearly as fun.

The Vacationers works so well because the plotting is sublime. Honestly, it’s hard to put down. Straub has crafted a perfect beach read—one that is full of mystery and scandal. Oh, and that ending. The final sentimental pages couldn’t be better.



The Vacationers: A Novel (Hardcover)

By (author): Emma Straub

“Delicious . . . richly riveting . . . The Vacationers offers all the delights of a fluffy, read-it-with-sunglasses-on-the-beach read, made substantial by the exceptional wit, insight, intelligence and talents of its author.”—People (four stars)

An irresistible, deftly observed novel about the secrets, joys, and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca.

For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole.
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Bradley Sides

Bradley Sides holds an M.A. in English. His fiction appears in numerous print and online journals. He is a staff writer for Bookkaholic and a frequent contributor to Drunk Monkeys. He resides in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is working on securing a release date for his debut novel, Leaving Today.


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